blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982, Joe Layton)

A scene from RICHARD PRYOR: LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP, directed by Joe Layton for Columbia Pictures.

Maybe it’s Sheldon Kahn’s editing, which doesn’t do the picture’s content justice, but Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip doesn’t feel seamless. The first twenty minutes or so do, however, which makes the change jarring.

All of a sudden, the reaction shots of the audience aren’t believable. Someone, either Pryor or director Layton, decided to showcase Jesse Jackson in the audience. It kills Sunset‘s focus on Pryor every time. And Sunset isn’t just a comedy special. It could get away with transgressions of that nature if it were.

No, Sunset is supposed to be something more. For the first third, the routine flows. Pryor connects all the material. Then he talks about visiting Africa and Sunset decides it’s going to be about something important–an entertainer trying to share a personal change with his audience and encourage them towards something.

But Sunset is even more ambitious. In a supposedly seamless transition from an old Southern black guy impression–which an audience member conveniently suggests–Pryor moves to discussing his cocaine addiction and his burn incident.

This segment takes up about the final fourth of the picture. Sunset isn’t just a comedy routine, it’s about Pryor as a person and a celebrity. Except Layton shot the thing like it’s a comedy concert picture–and Kahn edits it like it’s one. As the film gets more personal, the emphasis clearly needs to go on Pryor and it’s still split.

Haskell Wexler’s photography is great–Sunset‘s amazing to watch.

And Pryor’s magnificent.



Directed by Joe Layton; written and produced by Richard Pryor; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Sheldon Kahn; production designer, Michael Baugh; released by Columbia Pictures.


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